Robocalling, Pension and Health Care Relief Bills Signed into Law
Following a busy week of Congressional activity before the Christmas holiday, President Donald Trump signed into law several pieces of legislation of importance to rural broadband providers. These include a measure making it easier for consumers to identify robocalls and increasing penalties on robocallers, repeal of the so-called “Cadillac Tax” on some employer-sponsored healthcare plans and relief from government premiums for some pension plans like the NTCA Retirement & Security (R&S) Program.
The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, led by Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Greg Walden (R-Oregon), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), and Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), was signed into law on Dec. 31 to help reduce the number of robocalls received every day by Americans. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac Tax” on employer health plans and the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act mandating reduced premiums for cooperative and small employer charity plans like the R&S Program were included in the FY 2020 appropriations and signed into law on Dec. 20. NTCA is working closely with the program’s legal counsel and actuary to determine the specific impact to PBGC premiums for the program and will keep members updated on how this will apply to future bills.
NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield praised passage of these bills, as well as several other key rural broadband priorities included in FY 2020 appropriations. These include the RURAL Act, which would allow NTCA’s cooperative members to leverage government grant programs without disruption to their cooperative tax status, and the addition of $555 million in funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program.
Additionally, NTCA supported reform of video retransmission consent negotiation mandates through the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which expired on Dec. 31. While Congress did not undertake significant retransmission consent reforms, the House and Senate included provisions in the FY 2020 appropriations bill that make the retransmission good faith negotiation mandates for broadcasters and video providers permanent and extend negotiation mandates to video distribution buying groups.
Finally, NTCA also praised forward movement of broadband mapping and the telecommunications supply chain bills that have not yet been approved by both chambers. The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, the Broadband DATA Act and the MAPS Act are still making their way through Congress.
For more on NTCA’s advocacy efforts and a look at 2020 priorities, read thoughts and perspectives from Bloomfield on Broadband Beat
NTCA Offers FCC Ideas on Lifeline Accountability
NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Mike Romano met with staff from the FCC on December 17 to discuss reforms in the Lifeline and Link-Up programs. Romano and the staffers discussed options to implement requirements that contemplate the submission of personally identifiable information by employees of NTCA members in connection with the Lifeline Representative Accountability Database. Romano discussed the possibility of differentiated treatment for employees of eligible telecommunications carriers and independent contractors or agents in collecting such information while supporting the commission’s efforts to address concerns about fraud in the use of universal service resources.
RDOF Should Help Sustain Broadband Networks, NTCA Tells FCC
Consistent with prior advocacy on the FCC’s proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), NTCA’s Mike Romano again noted in a December 17 meeting with commission staff that services delivered in high-cost rural areas using RDOF funds should be reasonably comparable to those in urban areas both now and over at least the term of support distribution, if not longer. NTCA has advocated for a weighting system for bids made in the auction and recommended a bonus be applied to bids for symmetrical speeds at each level. NTCA has further advocated for more forward-looking usage limitations, noting that usage limits have been increasing at a pace greater than 20% per year.
During the December 17 meeting, Romano also urged the commission to enhance pre-bidding and post-award accountability in the RDOF auction and discussed the need for reasonable transitions between universal service support mechanisms, noting that service providers that already have deployed broadband at or above target speeds may need continued support to maintain the network and keep services and rates reasonably comparable to those in urban areas. He cautioned that if RDOF funding is curtailed for areas where deployment goals already have been met, service providers will have a disincentive to invest in the highest broadband speeds.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appointed Dr. Monisha Ghosh to serve as the agency’s chief technology officer.
Pai also announced a review of consumers’ robocall blocking options.
The FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau announced the agenda for the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window workshop scheduled for January 14, 2020.
The Department of Commerce extended the comment period for the proposed rule aimed at securing the information and communications technology and services supply chain. The new deadline for comments is January 10, 2020.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Information and Communications Technology Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force approved the creation of a new working group to develop frameworks around supply chain risk management best practices.